Researchers can now explore complex health questions in a unique environmental simulation suite at the University of Otago, Wellington.
The new suite in the Centre for Translational Physiology (CTP) will allow all kinds of research including how environmental conditions influence energy expenditure, an important underlying factor for diseases like obesity and diabetes.
The CTP, a biomedical research facility located at Otago's Wellington campus, also houses clinic rooms, a DXA scanner and a human physiology laboratory. The Global Energetics and Environmental Simulation Suite (GENESIS) is an airtight room designed to simulate some of the more inhospitable conditions found in the world, says CTP manager Terry O'Donnell.
“GENESIS really opens up some great research possibilities, we can control temperatures from minus 10°C through to a warm +50°C, 15-95 per cent relative humidity and simulate altitude conditions up to 5400 metres which is the same height as Mt Everest base camp.”
“Even more crucially, through a technique called calorimetry we can measure and assess energy expenditure in these simulated environments, a vital component for metabolic and obesity research,” he says.
The suite has been designed in such a way that it can used by a variety of groups for vastly different purposes. Due to its size and variable functionality, GENESIS can measure energy expenditure during extended 48 hour stays, commonly used for obesity studies, through to athletes exercising inside for the performance benefits of altitude and heat training.
Under the guidance of Associate Professors Jeremy Krebs and Shieak Tzeng who were the driving force behind the suite's acquisition, Mr O'Donnell is using GENESIS to investigate how different temperatures influence the amount of energy that participants expend.
“This research will help us identify the mechanisms that regulate energy balance when environmental conditions are altered. By getting a better understanding of the physiological responses, we may be able to develop more targeted obesity prevention and treatment programs in the future,” says Mr O'Donnell.
“Obesity is caused by an imbalance between our food intake and the energy we use each day. Some environmental conditions may cause us to burn less energy and could be contributing to rising obesity rates,” he says.
He says this may be particularly the case in office workspaces, where people experience not only sedentary work and access to high calorie foods, but also high stable temperatures due to modern technology and building design.
“Our Global Energetics and Environmental Simulation Suite (GENESIS) is New Zealand's first whole room calorimeter system. It will enable cutting-edge research on diseases such as obesity and diabetes, but also basic science investigations into thermoregulation and adaption to high altitude,” says Mr O'Donnell.
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